Invincible (United States, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

One corner of the genre of sports clichés is devoted to true stories of overachieving underdogs. In recent years, Disney has repeatedly raided this area, creating one inspiring story after another, most of which (like Remember the Titans and The Rookie) have been rousing and crowd-pleasing. With Invincible, however, hero-worship and unimaginative storytelling have caused the project to strike a sour note. I'm sure there's a lot to cheer about in the real-life story of pro football player Vince Papale, but there's nothing to laud in this lifeless white-wash of a motion picture. Disney's decision to move the release date to the dead-end dog days of late August is justified. Aside from die-hard Philadelphia Eagles fans, it's hard to see the film appealing to a theatrical audience. From the poor set design to the mediocre acting to the paint-by-numbers screenplay, this is TV fare at best. Anyone paying $10 to see this in a multiplex should request a refund.

Invincible tells the story of Vince Papale (Mark Wahlberg), a Philadelphia Eagles special teams player who traversed the unlikely road from a walk-on after an open try-out to a member of the team. Although other, more experienced players are resentful of his presence, first year coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear) stands by his choice to have Papale on the team, and his inclusion becomes a popular decision among Eagles fans. In a futile attempt to round out Papale's life beyond the football field, the film offers glimpses of his rocky relationship with his father (Kevin Conway) and his romance with bartender Janet (Elizabeth Banks) - the woman who would eventually become his wife (and co-star with him in radio commercials).

Invincible is one of the most derivative sports movies I can recall sitting through. The film takes stock characters, none of whom have anything remotely resembling a character flaw, and force-feeds them into a story that lacks dramatic tension. I don't doubt that the essence of Papale's tale is true, but the degree to which it has been sanitized robs it of color. There are dozens of missed opportunities to expand the movie in interesting directions. Invincible wants to get from Point A to Point B by the most economical route, and that means no detours. It also begets an abrupt and unsatisfying ending. The movie concludes so suddenly and with so little warning that I was shocked to find myself staring at the end credits. I momentarily wondered if someone had forgotten to include the last reel until I realized that's all there is. There's a climax of sorts (weak though it may be), but no denouement. How can a professionally made film end so sloppily?

I appreciate the work of some of the supporting players. Elizabeth Banks (the attractive nymphomaniac from The 40-Year Old Virgin) has the right amount of spunk. Kevin Conway is fine as Papale's working class dad. And Michael Rispoli brings a little humor and humanity to Max the bar owner. Unfortunately, both leads are miscast. Mark Wahlberg's Papale is another generic sports figure, and Greg Kinnear is unsuited (both physically and in temperament) to play Dick Vermeil. Kinnear's inclusion is problematic since the actor's inability to become the famous coach creates a disconnect between the audience and the movie.

Set design is shabby. Admittedly, the crew faced a challenge because Veterans Stadium (where the Eagles played their home games during the 1970s) was imploded in 2004 and was thus unavailable as a filming location. The solution - using CGI to transform stand-in Franklin Field into the Vet - is as poor a substitute as one can envision. When it comes to establishing the time period, the filmmakers take an equally ineffective short-cut, believing that '70s rock songs, bad haircuts, and old cars are sufficient to re-create an era.

The real Vince Papale ran through the streets of South Philly around the same time that the fictional Rocky did. Both of these men faced unbelievable odds in their quest to achieve greatness. It's ironic that the fabricated tale is more compelling than the factual one. Blame first-time director Ericson Core and his screenwriter, Brad Gann. Despite having a rich vein of ore at their disposal, they have mined little of value. Invincible will have to live up to its name to repel the slings and arrows of critics and movie-goers disappointed by its lackluster portrayal of this triumphant underdog.

Invincible (United States, 2006)

Director: Ericson Core
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Greg Kinnear, Elizabeth Banks, Kevin Conway, Michael Rispoli, Michael Nouri
Screenplay: Brad Gann
Cinematography: Ericson Core
Music: Mark Isham
U.S. Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2006-08-25
MPAA Rating: "PG" (Violence)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1